October 15, 2009
by Irwin Stelzer
Some people hate Tony Blair for what he did in office, most notably assisting in the unseating of Saddam Hussein. Others hate him for what he has done since being forced out of office by Gordon Brown, most notably for making what his former mentor, Neil Kinnock, called "loadsamoney". Still others hate him for what he might become – the president of the European Union, a post created by denying citizens in key European countries a voice in the process by which the Lisbon constitution – er, treaty – was adopted. All the Blair haters are wrong.
Start with Blair's premiership, and recall that it was he, with a little help from his then-friend Brown and his still-friend Mandelson, who made Labour electable. You don't have to like the Labour party to admire that feat; all you have to realise is that a democracy with two viable parties functions a lot better than a one-party democracy. So long as Labour threw up the Michael Foots as candidates and was in thrall to the trade unions, it could not provide a viable alternative to a sleaze-ridden Conservative party that had forfeited any right to manage the UK economy. Blair created that alternative – out of unpromising materials, I might add.
He went on to make respectable the idea that the public services exist to serve parents and the sick, not merely to provide places for millions of workers. True, he never succeeded in getting many of his consumer-choice reforms past Brown's Treasury, but he did make voters realise that they should be in charge, achieve at least some reforms, and create a dialogue that will make others possible once the Brown regime passes into opposition and Blairites regain control of the Labour party.
Which brings us to Iraq. Blair got the reason wrong and the cause right. And he was not alone: the intelligence services of most European countries believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Even if he did not, a continuing relaxation of the sanctions would have made the acquisition of such weapons possible had he remained in power – as Iran's mullahs are proving.
Then there is all that money that Blair is now making. Why that should be a sin I know not, especially since the former prime minister does devote time and energy to public service and to his charity. The objections seem to be three.
First, he gets a high fee for short speeches. The snide reporters who divide the fee by the length of the speech to get a high per-minute number should be ashamed: a speech requires preparation, staff research, travel time, and post-speaking schmoozing.
Second, the Blairs are building a property portfolio. Would they do better to stock up on bank shares? Or pounds?
Third, Cherie Blair likes to buy things, including fine antiques. Here we run smack into the lingering remains of the class system. The Mail on Sunday complains that this "working-class girl from Liverpool" fancies antiques and, horrors, antiques from the Napoleonic era. That's OK for lord this or that, but not for a working-class girl – who, by the way, earns a nice living, rather than relying on the inherited wealth that sustains so many who haunt the auction rooms.
There is worse, according to the Mail on Sunday. Cherie seeks to "curry favour with her American audiences" and promotes her book. Is she supposed to insult her American audiences and let her book head for the remainder piles, at a loss to herself and her publisher?
Finally, there is the EU presidency, or the possibility of it. I yield to no one in my dislike of the unaccountable, kleptocratic bureaucracy and its appropriation to itself of the prerogatives of parliament. But you lost that fight when your prime minister reneged on his promise of a referendum and signed the constitution – er, treaty. The EU's interest, which is what the role is all about now, is clearly in appointing (elections are not the thing in the EU) a famous, dynamic leader who can give it instant credibility on the world stage. Unfortunate for Britain, but that is of no interest to the Eurocrats. Indeed, the discomfort of the British prime minister when receiving President Blair at No 10 is one reason Blair's sponsors are probably advancing in favour of his candidacy.
Irwin Stelzer is a Senior Fellow and Director of Economic Policy Studies for the Hudson Institute. He is also the U.S. economist and political columnist for The Sunday Times (London) and The Courier Mail (Australia), a columnist for The New York Post, and an honorary fellow of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies for Wolfson College at Oxford University. He is the founder and former president of National Economic Research Associates and a consultant to several U.S. and United Kingdom industries on a variety of commercial and policy issues. He has a doctorate in economics from Cornell University and has taught at institutions such as Cornell, the University of Connecticut, New York University, and Nuffield College, Oxford.
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